Since the beginning of the week, military raids have been reported in the Belgorod region, emanating from Russian fighters infiltrated from Ukraine and opposed to the Putin regime. Two groups would be at work: the Russian Volunteer Corps, a paramilitary formation classified on the far right, and the Freedom Legion of Russia, presented as more moderate. Maria Noël, from the Russian service of RFI in Paris, was able to talk with the head of the “Civil Council”, an organization of Russian emigrants allied with the first unit, responsible in particular for recruitment.
It was on November 2 that “the Civil Council” made public its activity, as a partner and political ally of the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK). In a brief memorandum, he proclaims his solidarity with “ Ia resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which recognizes the terrorist nature of the current regime in Russia “. In addition to “ citizens’ initiative groups from the autonomous republics and regions of Russia », the political association is represented by « units of citizens of the Russian Federation as part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to end the war and implement a citizens’ transition – a program to eliminate a criminal group from power ». The alliance considers that removing terrorists from power requires the use of armed force “.
Anastasia Sergeeva is the international secretary and co-founder of the Civil Council. In this interview, she talks about how the recruitment of volunteers in these units takes place, about the functions of her organization and about why a Russian right-wing nationalist and a yoga teacher can find themselves side by side, on the battlefield.
RFI: When was the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) created?
Anastasia Sergeeva: It is a division within the International Legion of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. It is not a private military society – like Wagner – or a partisan movement. It is a military unit like the Kalinovsky regiment, the Georgian battalion and other units of the Ukrainian International Legion. They joined the Legion in August last year and before that they had Territorial Defense Force status. The hard core of the RDK are citizens of the Russian Federation who fought in the Azov Battalion. They were joined by those who were in Ukraine at the start of the war.
What are the functions of the Civil Council? Was it difficult to organize the recruitment of volunteers ?
Of course, it is difficult to organize the recruitment of volunteers. The idea of the Civil Council [on manque toujours d’informations complémentaires sur ses membres, NDLR] was born in the early days of the war. The founders are people who immediately understood what our goals were and that we had no time to waste in discussion. The first contacts with Ukraine took place in March last year, but following the events in Bucha and Irpin, Zelensky issued a decree banning Russian citizens from entering Ukraine, which significantly slowed down the process.
It helped us a lot that Denis Sokolov, a very famous and respected Caucasian scholar among Muslims, was one of the co-founders of the Civil Council. This allowed us to build relationships with the battalion commander “ Crimea », Isa Akaev. Now it is very clear that we are allies of Ukraine and we are grateful to the Ukrainians who have helped us all this time. We attach great importance to their trust.
Last fall, we agreed with the Ukrainian command that the RDK would become a platform for the volunteers we recruit from outside Ukraine. At that time, it was the only structured division where it was possible to add men. Since the beginning of 2023, there have been several arrival waves. The men who passed through us took part in the operations in March and in the current one. Recently, one of our volunteers was killed (Dmitri Petrov, anti-fascist and anarchist from Russia, doctor of history and anthropologist, died defending Bakhmout at the end of April). Two others were injured, one seriously.
The political positioning of RDK fighters raises many questions. In the Telegram channels of the Russian Volunteer Corps, in one of the videos, we see two people who would be hard to imagine together in civilian life: a member of the nationalist ultra-right, Alexei Lyovkin, and a former actor and yoga teacher, anarchist, Kirill Kanakhine. What can you say about this?
Those who pass through our structure are not necessarily ultra-right. Today, there is also the “Siberia” battalion which recruits volunteers, notably from the left or anarchists. That’s why volunteers can choose which division they want to join.
One of the difficulties we are currently encountering is allowing volunteers located in a third country – who need a visa to enter Ukraine, or are in Russia without a passport or have applied for asylum in Europe, but still want to fight – to join us. We are working on these issues with the help of the Civil Council.
We also take care of providing the equipment, the training, the transport of the volunteers, we help their families and the volunteers themselves as long as they are not under contract with the Ukrainian army and are not paid.
The Civil Council is a broad organization, which presupposes the participation of all those who are ready to fight for their fatherland – whatever the meaning given to this word. This is why in this organization, Russian nationalists are forced to put up with the presence of Circassian or Yakut nationalists. People on the left with those on the right, Muslims with the Orthodox, etc.
First, it makes perfect sense. If you don’t like that only right-wing people are fighting, then join us. Then, in Russia, there was too much discrimination and set people against each other. As long as a man does not commit a crime, he has the right to think what he wants. And the marginalization of the nationalists by the liberal intelligentsia pushed some of them towards fascism and Nazism. When the Russian nationalists go on the attack with the Chechens or the Yakuts, it is difficult to reproach them for their Nazism or their Fascism.
On Tuesday, Russian authorities said they had lifted the anti-terrorist operation regime in the Belgorod region. This lasted a little less than 24 hours and ended with the ” liquidation of the threat. What was the purpose of this operation? Do you think the operation itself was a success?
Regarding the operation, I prefer to wait for official announcements, and not to make assumptions. [Mardi] the commander of RDK responded in an interview with Mark Feygin [ex-avocat des Pussy Riot et blogueur militant, NDLR] that the operation was continuing. We are waiting. What we observe is that the Russian forces are not prepared either for war or to face internal opposition. It’s one thing to hit unarmed students and pensioners with truncheons, to get peaceful citizens out of their beds like in 1937. It’s another thing to face men who want to control a territory. It is also clear that statements by governors, FSB, etc. are pure bureaucracy.
How do the Civil Council and the members of the RDK see the Russia of today, and that of tomorrow?
We, the Civil Council coalition, consider the Russian Federation to be a failed state. And its leaders are war criminals and political criminals. One of our essential tasks is the establishment of an independent tribunal. We gather evidence and prepare indictments.
We believe that every nation has the right to self-determination. This means that, by default, all republics and regional communities or ethnic groups are initially free to choose between independence, participation in a federation or confederation, autonomy, etc.
We are convinced that Russians as a nation also have the right to self-determination. And this, among other things, can be a remedy against imperialism and colonialism. However, not everything is so simple. There are many differences among Russians.
You don’t have a separatist goal?
In conditions where Vladimir Putin has already done everything to break up the country, separatism is on the side of those who are allies of the Kremlin. As soon as Putin disappears, they will divide the country into territories to control.
How are you funded? Can the volunteers be sure that the RDK is not a project of the secret services – it doesn’t matter which ones?
Representatives of regional, national or diaspora communities assist us in particular financially. We also collect donations from our supporters. Obviously, these are limited and irregular funding. Who sometimes gives 1000 euros, sometimes 100, sometimes 10,000. That’s why we don’t have a promotional campaign, media and we don’t feed blogs.
The funds collected go to training, equipment, etc.
As for the guarantees, they are linked to our reputation. None of us ran to make a deal with the presidential administration or worked in the Kremlin. Our biographies are transparent and spotless. There is no better guarantee.